In Arielle’s debut YA novel, a New York University journalism student discovers the truth about her mysterious past while visiting Africa.
Nanyamka “Kay” Morowa is an overachieving undergraduate who spends much of her time working on hard-hitting news stories for her college paper or hanging out with her best friend, an outgoing Aussie named Beth. Kay forces herself to break off her romance with the handsome, adoring Callum when her recurring bad dreams indicate that his association with her will endanger his life. After her parents reveal that they haven’t been honest with her about her past, Kay leaves for South Africa feeling bitter and anxious. Her excitement on arrival is cut short when she becomes a victim of a human trafficking ring operated by a large-scale poaching operation. She flees the encampment with the help of a young woman named Tuki, who leads her and other victims to a refuge called Ipharadisi. There, she meets the majestic, menacing Queen Zaina and a handsome doctor named Erec. The refuge is dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating victims of violence, and Kay is told that she can’t leave, as she might reveal its location. Her strained relationship with the queen comes to a head when the mystical secret of Kay’s past (and her dreams) is fully revealed. As Ipharadisi comes under increasing threat, Kay trains to take on greater responsibility. With its emphasis on South African politics and current events, Arielle’s novel is a refreshing departure from the well-trod ground of paranormal romance stories. The community of Ipharadisi is richly imagined and fleshed out in vivid detail, from its cultures and customs to its intriguing sporting pastimes. At the market, for example, Kay learns that the natives mix the fermented kola nuts with water to make their own cola drink. The constant athletic competition among donga fighters will remind readers that despite the prevailing desire for peace, this is a warrior culture that must remain battle-ready. Kay’s narrative voice, as written by Arielle, is well-suited to a promising young journalist, and she comes across as witty and observant but self-conscious and vulnerable. She also manages to be delightfully wry without slipping into cynicism, and she has just enough quirks: her guilty pleasure is wrestling on TV, and she admits to daydreaming about being at the library.
A smart, thrilling story of a dangerous and mystical adventure.
In this debut middle-grade novel, a lonely boy finds friendship and learns about the magic of human connection.
Defined by the large mole on his lip, 10-year-old Gregory has grown distant from his family. He is friendless and withdrawn. Then one night a strange little creature emerges from Gregory’s mole. It is riding a (quite lovable) cockroach and can change size. This is the Grimbockle. The Grimbockle—one of many Bockles, who, like Palmer Cox’s Brownies, live at the peripheries of human awareness—tends to the exoodles that bind people together. Exoodles are long, transparent, noodlelike threads and are usually invisible. Once Gregory has his eyeballs painted with Carrot Juicy, though, he can see them. He joins the Grimbockle and the roach, traveling the exoodles as if on a high-speed roller coaster. Exoodles wither and die when people don’t look after their relationships. The Grimbockle is trying to repair a particularly sickly exoodle that links a boy to his mother. Can Gregory help—and can he mend the exoodles in his own life? Schubert follows delightedly in the footsteps of Roald Dahl, opening her unfortunate young protagonist’s eyes to a previously unseen world both weird and wondrous (yet for all its outlandish magic, oddly logical). The scenario is one of riotous imagination, while the Grimbockle himself—brought sweetly to life in black-and-white illustrations by Kraft—is a sprightly and good-natured little person, full of the type of singsong infelicities found in Dahl’s beloved nonhuman characters: “Is you ever seeing glimpses of squiggles in the corners of your twinklers but then they is disappearing in a snippety blink?” “ ‘Exoodles!’ shouted the Grimbockle in triumph. ‘Sometimes, hoo-mans is getting so twisty and wound up in extra exoodles that they is feeling gloomy blue and heavy all day long.’ ” The story is perhaps too much of a parable to fully match Dahl’s template; the adventure is safer and the threats less dark. Nonetheless, readers should fall willingly and with thrilled abandon into the fizzy, fanciful world of Gregory and his Grimbockle friend.
A beautifully realized daydream; a fun yet thoughtful exploration of the complexities and possibilities hidden beneath surface appearances.
A lost bunny searches for his mother in this debut picture book.
The youngster is already lost in the beginning of Lakhiani’s version of the time-honored tale of a lost child reuniting witha parent. On a foggy day, a young rabbit finds that he doesn’t recognize where he is. He calls for his mother, but instead of her voice in response, he hears the hum of a bumblebee. The nameless little rabbit asks if the bee knows where his home is, but the bee doesn’t and sends him on to the wise owl, who “sees everything.” As the little rabbit runs through the “eerie” fog toward the owl’s tree, he meets a kind squirrel. “I’ve lost my mother….I am lost and scared,” explains the little rabbit. The squirrel leads the rabbit to the wise owl’s tree, which the rabbit climbs to ask the owl, “[C]an you see where I live?” The fog is too thick for the owl to spot little rabbit’s home, so he gives the little rabbit a snack and invites him to rest. Falling asleep, the little rabbit dreams of his mother but is awakened by the hooting, buzzing and chattering of his three new friends. Looking around, he sees his mother, who embraces him: “I will never again let you out of my sight,” she tells him. The digitized art by Adams, some of which is credited to Thinkstock, is in a cartoon style that clearly delineates the characters but includes a few anthropomorphic details—a graduation cap for the owl, spectacles for the squirrel and only four legs for the bee—that add little value. Since the story centers on the little rabbit failing to recognize where he is, the choice to make the right-hand page of every spread identical is potentially confusing; regardless, it’s repetitious. The text fails in the opposite direction: It doesn’t create the typical patterns that can help toddlers follow the story, build anticipation and learn to chime in—steps on the path to reading alone. Erratic rhythms, changing stanza lengths and rhyme schemes, and awkward syntax undercut attempts to enliven the tale with poetry.
A story with a tried-and-true plot that needs to freshen up its presentation.